Shito-Ryu Karate-Do

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History of Shito-Ryu Karate

Karate originated as a martial art thousands of years ago and was brought to Japan from China, Taiwan and Okinawa. Many of the famous Karate-ka, or Bushi as they were known in Okinawa, experimented and developed their skills in such provinces as Shuri, Naha and Tomari. But unlike Judo and Kendo, Karate was a secret art, unknown to the general public. There was no fixed system until approximately 1907 when Yasutsune Itosu of Shuri and Kanryo Higaonna of Naha-both of whom are regarded today as two of the most influential teachers of Okinawan Karate-gained a good following for both of their own special styles. Master Itosu taught the Nai-huan-chi form and Master Higaonna taught Sanchin, which was later developed into the present-day Goju-Ryu style by Chojun Miyagi.

Kenwa Mabuni who had studied under both Master Yasutsune Itosu and Master Kanryo Higaonna devised the Shito-Ryu system. Born in 1889, Mabuni was the 17th generation son of a famous samurai named Onigusuki. Mabuni was keenly aware of the accomplishments of his brave ancestors and, wanting to overcome poor health, began intensive karate training at the age of 13. He also studied weapon techniques of the Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Kama, and Nunchaku.

After learning from other masters like Master Aragaki and Master Matsumura and by mixing the teaching of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna, he developed a new system, originally named 'HANKO RYU' (Half-Hard style), but, later changed it to reflect the deep respect he felt towards his two great masters and called his new system Shito-Ryu. (The Japanese government's martial arts sanctioning organization, the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai began to demand the different groups applying for membership, be more specific in the description of their Karate systems, and pressured them to name their systems).

The name 'Shito' is the combination of 'shi' and 'to' , the two first characters of the names of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna.

In 1929 Master Mabuni made a permanent move to Osaka to teach at universities and police departments. Over the next few years, Master Mabuni dedicated himself to the further development and promotion of Shito-Ryu Karate-do in the Osaka area. He was faced with an extremely difficult task due to the unwillingness of the population to accept him or this strange looking system of self defence, resembling an ancient 'Okinawan-Fist Dance'. In order to bring Shito-Ryu to the general public's attention, Master Mabuni would perform many demonstrations where he would break bricks and boards to show the power of karate. Continually trying to gain acceptance of his art, Master Kenwa Mabuni would give free instruction at various police stations across western Japan.

Shito Ryu Karate-do became more accepted after this time, and Master Mabuni began to teach many students at his home and at many Universities that were forming clubs. Among his many students included was his son Kenzo Mabuni, Kosei Kuniba (founder of Seishin Kai), Chojiro Tani (founder of Tani-ha Shukokai), Ryusho Sakagami (founder of Itosu-Kai), Yoshiaki Tsujikawa, Ken Sakio, Jun-ichi Inoue, Manzo Iwata, Toshiyuki Imanishi, Tokio Hisatomi and Ryusei Tomoyori. At first he taught his own students pure Shuri-te then pure Naha-te, but he also gave instruction in other master's styles.

Master Mabuni (seated) experimenting with protective equipment for combat In Japan, Shotokan-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu are the four main styles of Karate. Shito-Ryu is the style that preserves most of the original Shuri-te techniques, compared with other styles such as Shotokan and Wado. It also preserves original Naha-te techniques together with Goju, although each style places emphasis on different points. Technically, Shuri-te and Tomari-te have rather fast and straight movements, while Naha-te has circular and supple movements.

Master Kenwa Mabuni

Shito Ryu Karate was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (November 14, 1889 - May 23, 1952). When he was 13 years old, Mabuni Sensei began training with Anko Itosu, a noted Karate master in the Shuri area of Okinawa. Itosu Sensei was not only highly skilled in Budo but also a great innovator in teaching the martial arts. Around 1905, Itosu Sensei introduced Karate into the Okinawan public school system. Among other accomplishments, Itosu Sensei created the Pinan (Heian) kata which are still practiced today as introductory or intermediate forms in many schools. Itosu Sensei had an important effect on Karate in the 20th Century. Evidence of this can be found in the number of ryuha or Karate styles that trace their lineage back to him. This includes notables such as Gichin Funakoshi, who founded Shotokan Karate, Chomo Hanashiro, Kentsu Yabe, Choshin Chibana and others.

About 1909, through an introduction by his friend Chojun Miyagi, Mabuni Sensei started to also train with Kanryo Higaonna (sometimes known as Higashionna). Higaonna Sensei was a expert from the Naha region of Okinawa. Through Higaonna, Mabuni Sensei learned kata such as Saiha, Sanchin, Seienchin, Seipai and others. Miyagi Sensei went on to found the Goju Ryu style of Karate.

In 1915, both Itosu Sensei and Higaonna Sensei passed away within a short time of one another. Mabuni Sensei continued his training. Ultimately, he and Miyagi Sensei joined with other students of Karate to start a research group aimed at practicing and spreading Karate. During this time Mabuni Sensei also trained in various forms of Okinanwan weaponry or Ryukyu Kobudo.

In 1929, Mabuni Kenwa Sensei moved his entire family to Osaka. There he established a small dojo and began teaching his unique art. Hanko Ryu or Half-Hard Style. In the 1930's, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (the Japanese martial arts sanctioning organization) began to demand the different groups applying for membership, be more specific in the description of their Karate systems, and pressured them to name their systems. Originally, Mabuni Kenwa Sensei was going to name his system Hanko Ryu or "half-hard" style. However, ultimately Mabuni Sensei decided on the name Shito. The name "Shito" is the combination of "shi"  and "to" , the two first characters of the names of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna . Thus, the name Shito Ryu has no literal meaning but rather honors the two main teachers in Mabuni Kenwa Sensei's life. In the same context, the kata syllabus of Shito Ryu is still listed as having two lineages, Itosu Ke and Higaonna Ke.

Mabuni Kenwa Sensei worked tirelessly to teach Karate throughout Japan. His efforts brought him into contact with other people who were essential to the growth of Karate in Japan. The impact that Mabuni Kenwa had on the development of Japanese Karate was tremendous. Many groups trace an element of their lineage back to him. Mabuni Kenwa died on May 23rd, 1952.

Kenzo Mabuni Soke

Kenzo Mabuni Soke is the son of the founder of Shito-Ryu Karate-Do, the late Kenwa Mabuni.

Kenwa Mabuni (1889 - 1952) first started Karate under Sensei Itosu at the age of 13 and at the age of 22, studied under Sensei Kanryo Higoanna. From Itosu Sensei, he mastered the quick and lightning - like (Shorei) techniques and from Higoanna Sensei, he mastered the slow (Shorin) techniques emphasizing dynamic breathing and muscular control. Using the best and proven of all techniques he had mastered, he formed the Shito-Ryu system. He dedicated the name of Shito from these 2 famous masters; "Shi" pronounced in Japanese character for Itosu and "To" pronounced in Japanese characters for Higa. Today, Shito-Ryu Karate-Do remains as one of the 4 major styles of karate in Japan and it is taught all over the world.

Kenzo Mabuni Soke was born on May 30, 1927 at Akahira-Machi, Shuri City in Okinawa. His family moved to Osaka city in 1929 when he was 2 years old and he remained in his fathers house until now. He obtained permission from his father and joined his school when he was 13 years old and therefore has been in Shito-Ryu Karate-Do for over 60 years. He first obtained his Shodan (1st Dan) on August 1, 1943 and presently holds the Jyudan (10th Dan) and is a well respected master not only in Japan but also throughout the world.

His organization, Nihon Karate-Do Kai (formerly known as Dai-Nihon Karate-Do Kai) was founded by his father in 1939. After his father's death in 1952, his mother Mrs. Kame Mabuni came to Kenzo Mabuni and requested that he take over the style. Kenzo Mabuni could not decide at that time and went into seclusion for two years to contemplate this great responsibility. Of course, as we all know he decided to accept this responsibility and is the inheritor of his father's lineage making him the 2nd Governor of Shito-Ryu and successor to this organization. His father left him the Shito-Ryu name, his complete syllabus and the Dojo with the Association name Nihon Karate-Do Kai. All these remain intact until today. He followed his fathers syllabus exactly the way it was written down in 1929 and that's why he called it Seito Shito-Ryu or pure, true Shito-Ryu.

From that time, Kenzo Mabuni Soke dedicated his life to preserving the true lineage of his father's karate. He was not concerned with politics or image and remained unknown to the outside world while his older brother and others were spreading their influence in the name of  Shito-Ryu Karate. In 1993, upon the request of his good friend Ozawa, Kenzo Mabuni Soke travelled to Las Vegas and exposed the world to Seito (pure) Shito-Ryu, the true karate of his father, Mabuni Kenwa. In April of 1994, Kenzo Mabuni conducted seminars in Albany, New York and Phoenix, Arizona. Subsequent to these seminars, Kenzo Mabuni established the Shito-Ryu Karate Do Kai of America comprised of Dojo's that had requested of him consideration as his direct students and received formal acceptance by his senior instructors, the Nippon Karate-Do Kai Shihan Kai.

Kenzo Mabuni emphasizes the training of Karate based on his fathers principle, "Kata (form) is Karate". Kata is the essence of Karate and in training, one should follow his policy: 75% Kata training and 25% Kumite (free or organized sparring) training, besides doing the regular Kihon (Basics) and exercises. He trained under the watchful eye of his father and would practice hundreds of times for a period of 3 months or more just to understand and perfect One single Kata.

He advises that one should take note of the following points when practicing Kata:

  1. Kata should start and end with Rei (bow)
  2. Correct Basic Techniques
  3. Breathing
  4. Dachi (Stances)
  5. Posture
  6. Happo Tenshin (8 Directions)
  7. Chakugan (Focusing)
  8. Bunkai (Meaning and Application)
  9. Zanshin (Awareness)
  10. Repetition - to perfect the KATA

He is a very devoted teacher and after succeeding his father, he has spread his Dojo's (Training Centers) to:

Japan Overseas
Kinki Areas (Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, Shiga) Argentina
  New Zealand

Dojo's overseas will be increased in the future. His vision is that he will continue his fathers work in promoting this Traditional Martial Art and teach only the true and original form of Shito-Ryu Karate-Do.

Information provided by Shihan Kazuo Sakai

Mabuni Family Crest

The symbol that is synonymous with Seito Shito-Ryu Karate worldwide is the original Mabuni family crest or "mon". The aristocratic Mabuni family had a chronicled lineage during the Ryukyu Kingdom period in Okinawa. It is unclear when the mon originated, but it is logical to say that it was generations prior to being adopted by Mabuni Kenwa as the official symbol of Seito Shito-Ryu.

The physical characteristics of the mon well represent its use as the symbol for Seito-Shito-Ryu karate do. The outer circle is interpreted as symbolizing a ring or circle of a family (Wa), while the inner lines represent "human" or "human-being". The crest therefore symbolizes that we are all human, with our different characters, faults and idiosyncrasies that go with this, but we must endeavour to show kindness and consideration for our fellow man through a gentle heart. These same precepts are part of the "Go Do Shin" written by Mabuni Kenwa in 1929.